Monday, June 29, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

“Who cares if it’s accurate? It’s fiction.”

A writer whose book I was editing said the above when I questioned something in her manuscript. I suggested she research the subject, and she became irate, a bit rude even. Because I was also contractually obligated to publish the book, I did the research myself and corrected the information in the story. Later, the writer mentioned my “absurd” request to another author who informed her that fiction must, indeed, fit the facts, be accurate, and pass the plausibility test. After a contrite apology, my writer never again challenged me when I advised her to confirm her info.

What does this have to do with blatant self-promotion? Think about it. If our stories don’t ring true, we can lose our readers. If we lose our readers, we won’t have an audience. If we don’t have an audience, we won’t sell books. If we don’t sell books because our stories don’t ring true, all the BSP in the world isn’t going to make any difference.

Why is accuracy so important in fiction? Our readers come from all walks of life, are often well-read, and many have extensive knowledge and experience. If our stories contain misinformation, inaccuracies, and impossibilities, our credibility as writers goes down the toilet. Even science fiction and fantasy need to be based on sound scientific principles, no matter if they’re set far in the future. The best writing in the world will not overcome deficiencies in the fact department.

Bottom line: be wise, be savvy, be accurate. And, of course, write well. Make the reader so eager for your next novel that she’s regularly checking your website for a release date. Then BSP can do its job to help sell your book.

So what do you think? Does fiction need to be factual?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

15 comments :

  1. Great reminder, Linda. Of course we have to make sure the facts and information are all accurate. Nothing will pull a reader out of a story faster than stumbling on an inaccuracy in the writing. I recently had a similar interaction with a client. She was writing something that was true - part of her memoir - but it sounded so implausible that I suggested she explain a little more to make it believable.

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    1. When we know the details so well -- as we will in something like in a memoir -- we sometimes forget that our readers don't have a clue. Too little detail is as problematic as too much detail. Good point to remember!

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  2. Very good point. I actually had an editor who wanted to change something to something less accurate. We worked it out.
    Susan Says

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    1. Less accurate? That's a switch. Wonder what the reasoning was.

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  3. This is a subject of much discussion in several genre groups I belong to. I do feel there are details you need to get right. Then there are gray areas that can be exploited for fictional purposes. Some writers are horribly averse to researching and just want to write whatever comes. On the other end of the spectrum, there are nitpickers with specialized knowledge waiting to call you on your mistakes. Can you get everything 100% correct all the time? No. But you should make an effort to get critical details correct and to make sure everything passes the plausibility and cause and effect tests. Plot holes can ruin a good story and your relationship with readers.

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    1. Fiction allows us a lot of latitude in exercising imagination. Facts, on the other hand, lend credibility to our fiction. For example, if we are describing medical conditions, legal situations, how long a person can survive in a burning building that was torched with an incendiary liquid/device, etc., we had better be accurate. Good point, Diana.

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  4. I agree, Linda ... a blatant inaccuracy can pull a reader out of a novel. That said, I'd never let the facts get in the way of good story.

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    1. Of course not, Christopher. That wouldn't be any fun at all. :-)

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  5. Replies
    1. Borrowed from a line spoken so often by Joe Friday in the Dragnet TV program back in the 50s.

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  6. I got nailed for having a character love the smell of cordite in his family room. Modern day. Yeah, right...

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    1. Did a character thumb a safety off a Glock, too? Those are the two biggest mistakes in writing anything with firearms. I ALWAYS fact check. the hard part is knowing when to look up something you assume to be true. One of my crit partners caught me giving a Highlander SUV a manual transmission. Never thought to look that up.

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    2. Good point, Terry. Check ALL the facts, even the ones we think we're sure of. Whoever said writing was an easy job?

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  7. My series takes place in New Orleans. The division of the police department didn't suit my purpose. I wanted my cop in the French Quarter, so I posted a disclaimer explaining my switch. I did ask two Louisiana cops about it, both writers, and they thought it would be fine and that the cop would indeed investigate homicides. Anyway, if readers get past my psychic heroine, I think they'd accept the added duties of the district 8 police department.

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    1. I have a disclaimer in my second novel. The small town judge is a bit of a renegade, and his courtroom doesn't always parallel the typical ones of the big cities. He actually cares about the people who appear in his court, which apparently is a bit unusual.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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